- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Feb. 12

Miami Herald on legislation that would guarantee female inmates free and unlimited access to hygiene products:

Florida legislators, no matter their party - and no matter their gender - have shown a heartening amount of empathy for incarcerated women on an issue that affects them, uniquely.

On Monday, the state Senate Criminal Justice Committee unanimously approved the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act. The legislation would guarantee that women behind bars have free and unlimited access to hygiene products.

It’s not an issue that makes the front pages. However, prison beatings - and murders - sexual assaults and bribery are not the only indignities to which prisoners are subjected. Finding their voices in the era of #MeToo, advocates say that women in jail, prison, holding facilities and even juvenile detention, depend on the whims of prison guards who might withhold sanitary items, giving them a few tissues instead - or nothing at all. Often, the women are forced to buy such basic necessities in the prison store.

The Act would also prohibit male corrections officers from performing strip and cavity searches on women. It’s already a Department of Corrections rule. However, it’s not a law and, advocates say, it’s not enforced.

It shouldn’t take a law to force corrections employees and the administrators who should be holding them accountable to perform their jobs, however stressful and difficult, with a modicum of human decency. Since that seems to be the case, however, lawmakers in subsequent review committees should move this proposal on to the full Legislature where, it is hoped, it would be unanimously approved. This should not still be an issue.

Hopefully, it is just one step toward the criminal justice reforms that in Florida, and across the country, have gotten the attention of lawmakers, law enforcement officials and even President Trump.

In his Feb. 5 State of the Union address, for instance, Trump drew lawmakers’ bipartisan applause when he mentioned the First Step Act, approved by Congress in December. The legislation, among other things, lets judges diverge from unyielding minimum mandatory sentences and allows those imprisoned for non-violent crimes to qualify for early release.

It is long overdue recognition of the costs - human and financial - of blind, mass incarceration in this country.

In Florida, the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, too, is considered a “first step.”

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com/


Feb. 13

Tampa Bay Times on a year since 17 people were killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland:

Florida has been forever changed by the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. In the 12 months since 17 people were killed by a troubled former student firing a semi-automatic assault rifle, there have been modest new gun controls, enhanced security at schools and an increase in civic activism by young people. The challenge on the one-year anniversary of the shooting is to remain focused on meaningful changes to make our schools and communities safer - and for Floridians of all ages to remain involved in the discussion.

To their credit, then-Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature reacted with remarkable speed following the shooting. Within three weeks, a new law raised the age to buy all guns from 18 to 21, applied the three-day waiting period for buying handguns to rifles and outlawed bump stocks that have been used in other mass shootings and enable guns to fire more rapidly. Florida became one of a handful of states to establish a red flag law that enables law enforcement to seek a court order to take guns away from people who are a threat to themselves or others. Schools are being hardened, and at least one armed guard is required now at every school.

Yet there is much more to be done. A state commission chaired by Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri recommends increasing spending on mental health, requiring “hard corners” in every classroom where students and teachers cannot be seen by shooters in hallways or outside and locked door policies. Many of the commission’s prudent proposals, including a review of campus hardening efforts and standardized school security assessments, are included in legislation passed Tuesday by the Senate Education Committee. In the meantime, many school districts have to step up their efforts to comply with the requirement that every school have behavioral threat assessment teams to identify students showing concerning behavior.

If the Florida Legislature was less beholden to the National Rifle Association, it would take more aggressive measures. It would expand the red flag law to empower family members, not just law enforcement officers, to ask a judge to take firearms away from someone who is a danger to themselves or others. It would close the so-called gun show loophole so every gun sale would require a background check. It would ban semi-automatic weapons like those used at Stoneman Douglas and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Of course, that is not likely to happen in Tallahassee until voters send more gun-control advocates to the Legislature.

What really shouldn’t happen is allowing some classroom teachers to carry guns, no matter how well they are screened or how much training they receive. The commission chaired by Gualtieri supports that change, and so do Gov. Ron DeSantis and key Republican legislators. Gualtieri, who changed his thinking during the commission’s study, suggests at least one teacher could have shot and stopped the Stoneman Douglas shooter if he had been armed. But the commission also documented a series of systemic failures. The school district mishandled Nikolas Cruz’s issues over a long period. Campus monitors at Stoneman Douglas failed to sound the alarm when Cruz walked on campus carrying a rifle bag. And armed police officers failed to immediately enter the building after Cruz started shooting. More guns in schools is not the answer.

Ultimately, school safety is about money. The Florida Legislature should continue to invest in mental health services, better communications systems within schools and hardening campuses. If there is a compelling need for more armed security, the state should provide school districts with enough money to hire more police officers or licensed security guards with law enforcement backgrounds.

Online: http://www.tampabay.com/


Feb. 10

The Palm Beach Post on anti-abortion legislation:

As we’ve said previously, the decision of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is already one of the most gut-wrenching and heart-rending for any woman. For any man to insinuate himself into that decision-making process on the grounds it is being taken too lightly is an affront to human decency.

But that’s the dark road Republican lawmakers seem once again headed down.

On Thursday, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, filed a controversial abortion measure known as the “fetal heartbeat bill.” The proposal (SB 792) would bar doctors from performing abortions after fetal heartbeats have been detected.

“It’s time for us to face our history of the last 46 years and the 60 million faces of our offspring that we have extinguished,” Baxley said, pointing to the number of abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. “The heartbeat has always been the clear signal of the presence of life, and that life must be protected.”

Baxley’s bill is identical to a bill filed last month by freshman state Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, which drew stern, immediate opposition from abortion-rights supporters because the bill would effectively ban abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. The measure would require doctors to inform a woman seeking an abortion whether the fetus has a heartbeat and offer her the chance to view or hear the heartbeat. Women who decline the offer must do so in writing.

The kicker: Doctors who perform abortions after a heartbeat is detected - normally about six weeks into a pregnancy, when some women don’t yet realize they’re pregnant - could be charged with a third-degree felony. Making almost all abortions, in other words, illegal.

Hill coyly says this is not his intention. “It’s not an attempt to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body,” he told the Post’s Christine Stapleton. He noted the bill makes exceptions in cases of rape, incest, human trafficking or when the woman’s life is in danger. “The whole purpose is to protect the life of the unborn.”

But in 10 other states where similar legislation is being pursued - often to be turned back by courts - many proponents make no bones about their intent. Kentucky lawmakers are openly racing to be the first state to pass a fetal heartbeat law that sparks a case to the U.S. Supreme Court that proves fatal to Roe v Wade.

The peril for Florida is that Gov. Ron DeSantis said on the campaign trail that he would sign a fetal heartbeat bill into law if the Legislature sends it to him.

We hope this was just a sop to conservative audiences made in primary-election season, when it pays to be as extreme as possible. We hope that as governor, he can be made to realize that protecting a woman’s right to control her own body is at least as important as prioritizing early-forming cells in the opening stages of gestation.

If passed into law, the controversial measure would inevitably be challenged, conceivably thrusting Florida into another long, theatrical and likely hopeless court battle.

Online: https://www.palmbeachpost.com/

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